It’s fun seeing the books that I’ve not laid eyes on in some time turn up as we pack all our things for the move. The other night I ran across a battered blue children’s Bible that belonged to my wife as a child, a gift of the late Pastor W.A. Criswell, of First Baptist Dallas (all the Baptist kids there got one). It retells the key stories of the Bible in language small children can relate to. I find the prose more engaging than the prose in my own childhood Bible, so I decided to start reading to Lucas and Nora from their mother’s old Bible.
We started with the story of how Saul became the first King of Israel, and last night we arrived at the death of David, and the accession to the throne of Solomon. I think my son Lucas much prefers the Old Testament stories to the New, and for a fairly obvious reason: there’s a lot more fighting and slaying and suchlike, the kind of thing that gets a seven-year-old boy worked up. The authors of this Bible version do an expert job telling stories that can be difficult for children to handle in terms that hit the sweet spot between denaturing them of their complexity, and giving little ones too much to think about. I haven’t thought about these stories in many years, but I find that I too am challenged by having to explain this stuff to my children.
Why is Saul always killing people? Why did God choose Saul, even though he was always getting angry and wanting to kill David? And David, didn’t he have a right to kill Saul, given that Saul was trying to knock him off? Why did he spare Saul? And Dad, David was so good, why did he send that man off to die in battle so he could marry his wife? And so forth.
I’m doing the best I can with this material, but I am hard-pressed to come up with satisfactory answers for all of it. None of them have asked (yet) why it was okay by God for the Israelites to engage in mass murder of their enemies, but then God turned around and changed the rules when he came to earth as Jesus. I’m struggling with the texts and these characters as I teach these stories to my children, but I find that I’m grateful for that. Those who believe that the Jewish or Christian faith comes easily, with ready-made pious stories, and plaster saints, simply do not know what they’re talking about. Didn’t God love the Amalekites too? He made them, after all. Funny how even I, who was raised Christian and who have been an observant Christian for most of my adult life, have forgotten how challenging the Bible can be, but also how rewarding.
I was trying to convey to the children the other night how frustrating it must have been to David’s brothers to see how their youngest brother was God’s anointed one. I reminded them of Joseph being treated as he was by his brothers, and how these were prefigurings of Jesus. We don’t understand God’s ways, but we know that God works through the lowly, confounding our wisdom (I told them, in ways they could understand). Lucas seemed especially confused by David’s weeping over the death of his son Absalom.
“But why? Absalom tried to kill him and take over his kingdom!”
“I know. But that’s what it’s like to be a father. If you tried to kill me –”
“Which I would never do!”
“I know. But if you tried to kill me, and you were killed, I would still be really sad, because I would love you no matter what. I couldn’t stop you from doing what you wanted to do, but it would still break my heart if you got killed.”
I could see him turning all this over in his mind, beneath his furrowed seven-year-old brow. This is good. Good for him, good for me.